EXPLORATIONS IN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
By: The Reverend Hieromonk Myrella (LeClair)
What is Orthodox Christian Spirituality? What are the essential foundations of Orthodox Christian Spirituality? How do I live a life attuned to God? These are just a few of the questions that will be addressed on this page as we travel the spiritual pathway toward living life in communion with God.
“How Orthodox Spirituality Developed”
Before defining the essential foundations of Orthodox Spirituality, we need to understand what factors influenced its development. In this writing, two of the six major influences will be addressed.
1. The Scriptural Element:
The Word of God, as expressed in the Holy Scriptures, is the foundation of the whole of Orthodox spirituality. Holy Scripture is the substance of both the dogmas and the liturgies of the Orthodox Church. The Gospels are also central to Orthodox piety.
Unlike the Latin Churches, the Orthodox Church has always encouraged the reading of the Holy Bible. Certain books of the Bible have had strong influence on Orthodox spirituality. The Psalms hold a great place in public worship. The Gospels have also deeply entered the Orthodox conscience. The Beatitudes and the call of Christ to all who suffer are Gospel passages that particularly echo within the hearts of the Orthodox faithful.
Through the evolution of Orthodox thought, there were two attitudes towards Scriptures: (1) the “literalist” attitude of the School of Antioch, and (2) the “allegorist” attitude of the School of Alexandria. In addition to those two attitudes, there was the existence of a spirituality, which could be called “evangelical”. This spirituality identifies Christian life neither with the asceticism of the desert nor with liturgical worship but rather emphasizes the spirit and virtues of the Gospel, particularly the necessity of following Christ and for charity towards the poor and suffering.
2. The “Primitive Christian” Element:
“Primitive Christian” refers to the first three centuries and to the ideas of the Apostolic Fathers and Apologists. Martyrdom occupies the central place in Christian conceptions of this period. According to Origen and Tertullian, the life of a Christian ought to be a preparation for martyrdom. If one does not have the opportunity to die for the Lord, then one may at least suffer or be persecuted for His sake. One who suffers for Christ was called a “confessor”.
When martyrdom or “confession” was not possible, the Christian could fight against human passions. This virtue was referred to as asceticism. The Ascetics lived lives characterized by poverty, fasting and chastity. Asceticism remains a major tradition of the Orthodox Church.
The first Christians lived in the hope and expectation of the Second Coming. Orthodoxy maintains that our earthly life is but an introduction to the eternal Kingdom.